Showing posts from 2020

The biggest intellectual nothing burger of the last century?

Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach contained some interesting musings on recursion, computation, self-reference, and so on. But of course is main "oomph" was that it was going to use all of these musings to explain consciousness. And the explanation?
"This is it -- this is what consciousness is. Consciousness is that property of a system that arises whenever there exists symbols in the system which obey triggering patterns somewhat like the ones described in the past several sections" (385).
Can you imagine someone in a real science, one that makes real discoveries, offering an "explanation" like that?

"Planets just are those celestial objects that move in the sky in that funny way."
"Atoms just are those things that cause chemicals to form in the patterns they do."
"Evolution just is the process of new species coming into being."
Such a phony would be laughed right out of the scientific community.
In a real science.

All Those Great Scientists Burned at the Stake...

Add a website analyzing Grateful Dead song lyrics, I ran across the following comment:
"'That's it for the other one' always made me think of the greats who were burned for believing 'controversial' beliefs that have since become accepted fact."
I think this is notable because of how widespread this nonsense is. I actually encountered a PhD economist who casually threw out the “fact” that “lots of great scientists were burned at the stake.”
I can think of exactly one figure who might, by some stretch, be called a scientist, who was burned at the stake: Giordano Bruno. And the only charge against him somewhat connected to a scientific idea regarded his belief in an infinity of  “worlds,” hardly something that has become an “accepted fact.”
One person, who was not even really a scientist, but more a speculative cosmologist. And yet educated people continue to believe that lots of scientists were killed for their findings.
I even ran across one person online who …

How to Prep for Surprise Zoom Questions

You are at a boring Zoom meeting, and naturally, you are napping, or playing Word with Friends, or doing shots of tequila... anything but paying attention. And suddenly, you hear "I think [YOUR NAME HERE] can comment on this..."

Do you panic? Do you ask, "What was the topic?" Do you pretend to have been in the bathroom?

No way! Because you have prepared... by keeping a book by, say, Hegel, or Husserl, or Derrida, ready at your side, and reading this blog post.

When you hear your name called, just pick up the book, flip to any page (although avoid the editor's introduction, as it might be too comprehensible), and just begin reading. For example, picking a random page from Cartesian Meditations, I would read:

"The variation being meant as an evident one, accordingly as presenting in pure intuition the possibilities themselves as possibilities, its correlate is an intuitive and apodictic consciousness of something universal. The eidos itself is a beheld or b…


I am going to tell a short version of a story. The long version has lots of interesting details, many twists and turns, Numerous subplots, a myriad of secondary characters, and so on. I am going to leave all of that out in my super-condensed version. nevertheless, I think this “Cliff Notes“ edition of the story still captures its highlights successfully.

In the 17th century, England was in great turmoil. The English fought two civil wars and at the end of the second, a class that might be called the “rising bourgeoisie“ emerged triumphant. And having one, then actually wanted to put in place a political system reflecting the values of well-off protestant bourgeoisie, in favoring that same sort of person.

Now at the “commanding heights“ of their nation, the winners were in a position to put that system in place, but they had to solve an important problem: they were now in charge. But how were they to justify their position to those who were not in charge?

Their problem arose from the …

Catching up with Zeno...

I just wanted to share another Zeno analysis I came across today, this one from Adolf Grüubaum:

"According to a view that is as widespread as it is erroneous, Zeno's argument is no more than a mathematical anachronism. We are told that if he had only known, as we do today, that the arithmetic some of the suitably converging infinite series of numbers is finite rather than infinite, then he would have recognized that he had merely posed a pseudoproblem" (Zeno's Paradoxes, editor Wesley C. Salmon, p. 172, emphasis mine).

The genius of Jane Jacobs

Highlighted in this article.

What I didn't know before reading it, and what really impressed me, is... that she previously had been an advocate of most of what she criticized in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She was a big fan of the city planners! But she did not cling to her ideas as if they were her very self: instead, she kept her eyes open. And what she saw changed her mind. In particular, in a tour of Philadelphia urban renewal guided by planner Edmund Bacon, she realized that:

"Not only did [Bacon] and the people he directed not know how to make an interesting or a humane street, but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care."

A true intellectual giant, who was willing to learn from what she observed going on in the world around her.

Making science too simple

At LSE, one of my lectures remarked, “The problem with Popper and Hempel is they try to make things too simple.”
In particular, the idea of a decisive experiment that conclusively falsifies a theory does not do justice to the complexity of what actually goes on in scientific research. There are almost always multiple ways that one can sensibly take some experimental result. For instance, I am reading The Eighth Day of Creation at present. The author describes how, in 1944, Oswald Avery and colleagues published a paper that offered evidence that the carrier of genetic information was a nucleic acid. The author himself considers the paper to of offered “rigorous proof“ that this was the case, but when he talks to other scientists, it becomes clear that the author is mistaken. at the time of the experiment, the reigning theory held that nucleic acid‘s were too simple to carry the genetic information. Given this, Max Delbrück tells him there were at least three reasonable ways to interpret…

Walker Percy and me

I had been told to read Walker Percy, by people I respect, for some time. Well, I just finished Lost in the Cosmos, which contains a 40-page semiotic interlude. And what do you know? He lists his main influences as Susanne Langer, Ernst Cassirer, C.S. Peirce, and Ferdinand de Saussure, by whom I have, respectively, 6, 4, 4, and 1 book(s) on my shelves. And twice in the book he mentions the Grateful Dead. Curious, I wondered was there some known connection between Percy and the Dead? I googled and came up with this.

Hmm, so Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter read a lot of Percy. Well, all of this should prove to be interesting!

Perpetuating economic nonsense

Somebody produces YouTube videos examining medieval weapons and armor. You can easily find the link yourself.
This fellow was discussing cross bows versus long bows with some historian. Their puzzle was why crossbow archers were paid more than longbow archers, despite the (supposedly) better performance of the longbow archers. The video producer concluded “it’s because the crossbow archers’ equipment was more expensive.”
Sigh. This fellow produces videos for Internet consumption. Would he really pay me more to host his videos, with the exact same quality, reach, download speed, etc., simply because I told him that the computer I was using to host his videos was way more expensive than the one that YouTube uses?